Health secretary declares hepatitis A outbreak in Philadelphia, Allegheny counties

Kim Glovas
May 20, 2019 - 1:26 pm
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine

Pennsylvania Department of Health

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine has joined 22 in declaring a hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania, with nearby counties being hit the hardest.

Of the 171 cases reported among 36 counties this year, Levine said Philadelphia and Allegheny counties are seeing the worst of it. 

In data gathered since January 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported up to 50 cases of hepatitis A in Philadelphia County. Allegheny reported up to 30 cases. 

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, stomach pain and jaundice, and it can last several weeks or several months. Many people infected with the virus do not show any symptoms. 

The virus is highly contagious and can be spread before symptoms appear. Hepatitis A is easily spread through food and water, especially in poor sanitary conditions, like where handwashing is not common practice.

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"The commonwealth has seen an increase of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV because of the opioid epidemic," said Levine in a statement. "We are taking this action now to be proactive in our response to treating Pennsylvanians suffering from (hepatitis A) and prevent it from spreading."

The best way to prevent an outbreak is by getting a vaccination. And by declaring an outbreak, she said the state will be eligible for federal funds to buy additional vaccines, if needed. 

Ohio and West Virginia have also seen more than 2,000 cases since January 2018.